Even the most enthusiastic supporter of blockchain technology agrees that it needs time to reach its full potential as a system of record for global business transactions.
Blockchain got its start as a means of recording the exchange of bitcoin, the first of thousands of cryptocurrencies to flood the market. And while many early adopters of blockchain continue to rely on some form of coin or token to fund their initiatives, others are delinking it from the cryptocurrency realm altogether. Instead, they’re turning to more traditional sources to finance creation of a distributed, immutable ledger maintained by multiple participants in a business transaction.
With or without the need for “coins,” blockchain is still in its very early days of development. John Paukulis, founder and chief executive officer of Giftz, likened its stage of maturity to the invention of broadcast cameras before most people owned television sets. (Giftz offers a blockchain for loyalty rewards tokens.)
Paukulis was joined by dozens of other speakers and thousands of blockchain enthusiasts at the recent Crypto Invest Summit in Los Angeles. One panel at the event examined what’s needed for blockchain to achieve mainstream adoption.
By most accounts, quite a bit. John Souza, founder and CEO of the Kingsland University School of Blockchain, noted the lack of blockchain developers that could create the necessary standards and certifications for education and deployment of the technology. “It’s the dirty secret that no one wants to talk about,” he said. “The number-one risk in the entire ecosystem.”
A Kingsland survey of 200 Fortune 500 companies found 180 planning to initiate blockchain projects over the next year. But only 12 could identify the workforce necessary to make that happen. “You can’t build on toothpicks,” he said.
Education — or lack of it — appears to be the biggest barrier to widespread adoption of blockchain technology, or even tangible efforts toward that end.
“I cringe when I hear about crypto ‘projects,’” said Randall Crowder, CEO of Phunware, creator of a mobile app development platform. “I don’t invest in projects — I invest in companies. Awareness and distribution are the two things we’re missing.”
Shiv Madan, CEO of Blockparty, a blockchain event ticketing company, said the technology awaits a “turning point for mass adoption” similar to the coming of Hotmail in the late 1990s, when it transformed web-based email.
“They had a product that was really sticky, technology that was extremely solid, and marketing behind it,” said Madan. “Once you have two or three of those things, you’re going to be able to move in the same trajectory as in that era.”
Of course, the wave of technological innovation during that period temporarily hit a wall with the dotcom crash of 2000. And blockchain’s path to acceptance could prove equally rocky — especially if its fortunes are tied too closely to the success of cryptocurrencies. Many see the latter as the source of the next investment bubble that’s sure to burst.
Experts at the Crypto Invest Summit didn’t seem overly eager to separate blockchain from its cryptocurrency origins. “Blockchain is cryptographic technology,” said Christopher Smith, partner with Rootmont Research. “It’s something you do when you want to secure against falsification.”
Of course, that desire needn’t involve the use of a token or coin. Global supply chains would be greatly enhanced by creation of an immutable record of transactions that ranges beyond financial affairs, to embrace all of the contractual terms in buyer-supplier relationships.
In the end, the panel on mainstream adoption of blockchain spent more time discussing the value and future of cryptocurrencies, suggesting that a divorce between the two technologies is far from finalized. At the same time, there was substantial talk at the summit of blockchain initiatives emerging globally, including those steered by governments. Malta, for one, harbors ambitions to become the blockchain center of the world — a “blockchain island” that would also draw on artificial intelligence to attract foreign investors in support of the nation’s finance, transportation and education sectors.
Whether blockchain can ever serve as an effective tool for complex global supply chains remains to be seen. But its value as an enabler of financial activities wasn’t questioned by attendees at the Crypto Invest Summit.
“This space is here to stay,” declared Anna Cox, chief compliance officer with Blackmoon, developer of a blockchain investment platform. “The blockchain industry is not going to go anywhere. It’s the natural evolution of the financial world.”
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